November 26, 2011

The Dustbowl Fracas

It's my goal to find a publisher for Farmageddon. The path towards this goal includes a lot of rejection, though oftentimes that's paired with feedback. Some I take, some I ignore. Most of the feedback I ignore is that which pushes Farmageddon outside of the realm of a casual game and towards something more hardcore. It's not that Farmageddon can't be that, it's just it wasn't designed to do that, plus I feel that direction requires more than a tweak, but an overhaul.

Well, I spent yesterday doing one such overhaul. I spent an hour scribbling notes on my notebook at a coffee shop, then several hours at home drafting the rules and refining the content.

I'm not abandoning Farmageddon, because I think over time it's evolved into a solid casual card game. I believe in my derpy corn. But, there's room for a second entry into the Farmageddon family. I've been working on the game for a year now and that familiarity allowed me to create something new really quickly. That new thing is Dustbowl Fracas.

Before I go into the explanation of the new game, here are the rules for Farmageddon. Here are the rules for Dustbowl Fracas. If you're familiar with the original Farmageddon I think the new game will be both more familiar and more interesting. They are cousins.

Dustbowl Fracas is a deckbuilding game for 2 to 4 players. It includes some of the content and core elements of Farmageddon, but tweaks almost everything in order to serve its new purpose.

November 19, 2011

My Own Worst Fan: A Critical look at Frontier Scoundrels

Frontier Scoundrels has been in development since July and I think I've hit another key milestone, though it's not necessarily a good one. I've held a few complete start-to-finish playtests of the game, and while I think the game is finally mechanically sound, it's too complicated, ill-focused, and lacks the fun element it needs to have. I'm not sure I can fix the game in its current state.

The past 5 months haven't been wasted though; I know a great deal more about what works and what doesn't. More importantly, I know which of my core mechanics need to change, though that means I need to discard some of my original design focuses.

This will be a long post, so here's a quick table of contents to show you what to expect. Another thing to note is that I aim for this post to be useful as a design exercise for folks and it hopefully won't require prior knowledge of Frontier Scoundrels.

Table of Contents
  • The Current Frontier Scoundrels: Summary of the game flow with a link to the complete rules
  • Why It's Broken: A breakdown of what's wrong with the current game
  • Mulligan: Details on where I'm taking the game next, including a mind-map.
  • Thinking Time: Questions for which I need to find answers

November 6, 2011

The Status of the Expedition

My current lead design project, Frontier Scoundrels, has traversed some difficult terrain lately. I finally played the game from start to finish, which was excellent, but also showed me just how far I needed to go.

The feedback from the test was as follows:
  • Explorers didn't have enough interesting choices. They were basically pawns while the Expedition Leader and War Party battled it out. They had little incentives for either outcome, as well.
  • Event cards (now Action cards) played almost no role in the game. They were too hard to obtain and didn't matter much.
  • Resolving Hardships was too easy.
  • The Land mechanic was interesting on paper, but nobody really liked it as executed. During the test, each Explorer selected 1 Land card (from a hand of 3) and gave it to the Expedition Leader face-down. 
I tried to solve these problems in a few ways.
  • I made it so that Explorers played a Land card in clockwise order. Instead of the Expedition Leader choosing the order, the Explorer picked it. This actually simplified the game, sped it up, and made the Explorers' choices more interesting.
  • I modified the Land to benefit the Explorers more and the Expedition Leader less. This made it so that Explorer's could play cards that leaned in their favor.
  • I made it so Explorers earned points as well as the Expedition Leader (though fewer), but also would gain more dice to use throughout the game. 
  • I gave players more Action cards at the start of the game and added several ways to get them (primarily tied them into Land to once again make the Explorer's choice more interesting). 
  • I made Hardships more difficult by increasing/decreasing the numbers and putting more restrictions on how the dice could be used. I also cleaned up the mechanics here to be more consistent. Just a better change overall. 

November 4, 2011

My Thoughts on Kickstarter

This post may be controversial to some. My intent is not to stir controversy, anger anyone, or be a jerk. I made a comment on Twitter today after reading an article that generated many comments. My comment was that with the huge number of board game projects on Kickstarter and no barrier to entry, this can lead to something bad.

Before I go further, I want to provide some quick disclaimers. This is just my opinion, which is based on my perspective. Your perspective and opinion will be different. I'm going to try to back up my statements with logical thought and examples where possible. That doesn't mean I'm right. In some cases it's purely subjective, in other cases I may have the facts wrong and I'd appreciate it if you would correct me in the comments.

If it helps, my perspective is that of a consumer. I've backed 9 projects on Kickstarter (my profile) and, when the right project loads into my browser, I will do so again. My perspective is also that of a designer. I'd love more than anything to be published. Well, not more than Peaches. But most things!

My thoughts below will sometimes meander beyond Kickstarter, but I think that's a good focus for most of my thoughts.

November 3, 2011

The Trial Will Re-Adjourn

I'm trying to make consistent progress on Witch Trial. I've made a few decisions since my last post.

If you're just now joining us, I'm doing this for National Game Design Month. My first post (brainstorm) is here. My second post is here.

Decision the First
The game will come with a deck of ten cards called the Townspeople deck. This will be an assortment of men and women, interesting characters like the constable, the merchant, the fisherman, the baker, and more.

What will be interesting is that each one will have a certain quirk that creates a gameplay element. It'll need to be simple enough, as there will be many, but imagine something like the benefit on a card in Dominion, but you must "control" the person to use it. OR, it'll affect the cards you play.

At the start of the game, you'll randomly deal cards from the Townspeople deck to determine the jurors (currently I'm thinking there will be six jurors) and the Judge (one). The last three will comprise the witnesses, who may or may not be called to the stand to testify.

My goal is that, like Dominion, each game is different. Like Dominion, you cannot use the same strategy every time. And finally, like Dominion, you can learn new combos and experiment.

I'm worried that this will be very difficult to balance. I'm also worried that so much information will be difficult to parse for new players. But, if I follow the standards set by Dominion and Eminent Domain (not hard, right?) it can be done.

Decision the Second, Son of Decision the First
I've decided the Witch will not affect gameplay. She'll always be the same, misunderstood character. She'll be a comically tragic figure who is ultimately always innocent (weren't they all?). I don't think I can have a varying jury/judge/witnesses each game AND a different Witch. It's too much and something has to give.

So, the witch will never actually be a witch. But, if the prosecution plays their cards right, she'll sure as Salem be guilty!

The two lawyers (i.e. players) won't be unique, either. Players will essentially create characters and strategies based on their personal play style and the conditions on the board (Jury, Judge, Witnesses).

Decision the Third, estranged spouse of Decision the Second
The game will be broken into three phases: Opening Arguments, the Procession of Evidence, and Closing Arguments. I really enjoy phases for a few reasons.

Firstly, they help focus a player's decisions, while keeping a certain richness. What do you need to do in order to best maximize your efforts in the current phase AND help you win the overall game? You may have a great initial phase, but you could peter out.

Secondly, I think the broad possibilities of many deckbuilding games can be overwhelming for some. I don't mind simplifying this genre if new players try it out.

Thirdly, it gives a distinct ending to the game. This has been a sticking point for me since my very first unsuccessful game. I like it when there's a clear ending that everyone understands and can work against.

Finally, I really enjoyed the phases in 7 Wonders. I have no clue how I'm going to do it quite yet for Witch Trial but I think that it's a good element to borrow and evolve.

Decision the Fourth, this joke isn't funny
Players earn points by using their cards (i.e. legal maneuvers, evidence) to manipulate the various entities. This will also, in some cases, be how you earn cards. So, play a set of cards to manipulate the judge and acquire a powerful card from him. Use a set of cards to influence several members of the jury, then cash them in to rake in several points.

The game will be point based. Player with the most points at the end wins the case. The poor, poor witch.

Finally, there will be a card or a concept known as "Objection!" I don't know how it will work, but by god it will be in the game.

November 2, 2011

Opening Arguments: Designing the Witch Trial

I've decided to steam ahead full on my design of Witch Trial, the sudden urgency being that this is National Game Design Month and I desire so much to be cool and hip. And what better way than to design a board game in a month!

I wrote about Witch Trial previously, but to save you time here's a quick summary. Initially, I wanted to create a detective game. I love Law and Order: SVU and CSI: Miami. They are just fun. But, I didn't want to make a game based in modern times. I feel it's not exciting or different enough. I love history, so I began thinking about mystery-like novels such asUmberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. From this, a friend suggested the witch scene from Monty Python's The Holy Grail. From there, I took the concept of a witch trial, picked colonial Salem, Massachusetts as a setting, and decided the game would be about the trial itself, not the discovery or the escape, but the trial.

I have been trained at work to design very quickly due to deadlines. However, designing board games are my hobby, so I take my time. Really, I work in two phases: concept and design.

My goals for the concept phase are to pick a theme, a few core mechanics, number of players, time to play the game, and general flow and feel of the game. Basically, my concept phase is when I put a line in the sand for high level and philosophical concepts that will guide the rest of the game. This phase takes me days, weeks, sometimes months. I often do it passively, and by that I mean my best ideas come to me when I'm walking my dog and I stop to write them on my iPhone. Or when I'm in the shower. Or when I'm running. I don't set a deadline on this phase and I don't force it.